Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Fields are white -- we are bringing in the harvest using scythes and sheaves - not Combine Harvesters

One of the very large churches in our area is cutting back. Staff reduction.  This is a case of a beautiful building standing more empty than first planned.  It's a trend that is becoming clear everywhere, Church no longer works as it once did as a vehicle for bringing in the harvest.

I remember when they built it.  On a main road. Lots of parking.  Comfy seats. Lots of room to grow.  In the path of progress.  IF you were to define the ideal situation you would consider this church strategic.

I have never been to one of their services.  Many who have gone that I know there have high opinions of the quality of the music, the programs, the preaching and the people.  It's the ideal church. Therefore I was surprised when I heard that things there were on the downtrend.

I have been asking the Lord about this.  I have been writing on the issue for quite a while, the importance of doing the things that the Lord instructed us to do.  The stuff.  I believe in part that is the Lord's mandate.  Yet doing what the Lord says to do is different that we thought.

Early this morning in thinking about all this, (VERY EARLY), I heard the Lord say, "The harvesters don't understand the harvest field".  

Coming from an agricultural background the imagery was clear.  I could see someone trying to harvest flax with a corn picker.  Someone trying to harvest tomatoes with a potato digger.
The picture that came clear to mind was the difference between the way we used to do it and the way it's done today.

You know that this is how it was done at the turn of the century in those harvest fields.  It was work but it was wonderful in our memory.

Today's method should be different but we are still using what we used a hundred years ago.  Technology and culture has changed.  We now live in a time when people are drawn to Jesus is by demonstration not preaching or programs.

 Those who refuse to see this will find themselves on the outside looking in, singing "We shall go rejoicing bringing in the Sheaves".  Just like the picture.

 Today's approach for reaching the generation of people in America today is as dated as the difference between these two pictures.

  The harvest field is in large part a crop called Millennials.  The church is not getting them into the fold.  They are going to waste.  Weather, pests, crows and loss to rot as the head hits the ground is taking the toll while those of us from another generation wonder why.

The challenge is we Baby Boomers used to own the world.  We were the big dogs. We dominated the demographic.  Those born 1945-1966.  Huge numbers of us.  Now getting older. Our average age is 60. 

The greatest generation is dying off. We are next.  We are beginning to disappear.  There are a few smaller generations behind us, but those who were born from 1977 - 1995 now surpass us in dominance.  25% of people in the USA are millennials, 24% are Boomers. There is a generation coming behind them that is almost as large.  Those born from 1995- to Now.  Another 24%  That's why children's ministry is so essential.  But that's not what I am addressing here.  I am addressing a lost generation of people we are not reaching.

The harvest field is ripe.  Very ripe.  They are not going to come to us.  It's not who they are.  They are unlike former generations and if we don't begin to go to them they will never hear.  They will be lost forever because we didn't preach the Gospel to them.  Paul traveled to Athens.  They weren't coming to Tarsus.  We send missionaries all around he world.  WHY?  To reach the lost.

Yet we fail to reach those a mile away because we do not approach them where they are.  I'm not talking about Geographic.  I'm talking about emotionally, mentally and technically.  We don't speak their language.

Research tells us much about this generation. IF you have a heart for the lost you MUST begin to see where they are so you can be there to reach them.  This doesn't mean hanging out in Starbucks, they aren't there as much as you might think.

There is a comprehensive study by Nielsen company a year ago on the profile of this huge generation.  You can find the full transcript on line by googling  Millennials: Breaking the Myths - Nielsen.  You will get a full download PDF that you can read.

A short summary is also here.   Read it

Here are a some takeaways that I got from reading all this thru the eyes of the Spirit of God:

  • These are conservative people with their money, but they are liberal with social issues, more libertarian than liberal.  Gay rights are OK but spending money foolishly is not.  Conclusion, we won't win them by hammering issues that matter so much to you or me like Gay Marriage, Abortion, Fornication, Porn or any of the other things that in the past seemed so important.  They just aren't there.  First their heart must be changed and then, the social issues will resolve themselves.  The apostle Paul going to Rome was going to a place filled will every form of Debauchery .. yet people were converted.

  • They either live with mom and dad or in apartments in the city.  The idea of the suburban house with the picket fence as there are near the failing church I mentioned is not on their radar.

  • They are getting married, but much later.  They are compassionate, willing to take care of their parents.  These are good people who care about things we boomers didn't.  

  • They believe in myths.  Theories.  Natural cures.  Not vaccinating.  They tend to be a bit less discerning than they should be.  They bought into global warming without a question.  They can be deceived easily.

  • They were big supporters of the democrats in 2008.  Somewhat less than 2012. Much less in 2014 and are drifting into becoming conservatives.  As people get older they often more and more conservative and these are.  They have soured on President Obama who they supported big time.  They lack discernment.

  • They don't gather together much except electronically.  The number one application on their computer or phone is Facebook.  Conversations and connections are conducted there.  They will come to a special event, but they are not easily committed to membership.

  • While they have had a tough time financially, they are really on the upswing fast.  They are quickly becoming wealthy.  They are good workers.  Effective entrepreneurs.

  • The demographic has racial components.  Whites still dominate but Hispanics are close behind.  Asians are a fast growing part.  African Americans are on the decline and will soon become a lesser minority behind Asians and Hispanics.  The generation that might have made it work was aborted.  This will change a lot of things in reaching this generation.  

  • These are people who care about technology and use it well.  IF we don't do the same we will miss them.

  • They do things that boomers don't get at all. They like to cover their body with tattoos. Don't make a big deal of it.  They see things differently from you.

  • They’re influenced by celebrity endorsements and respond more favorably to advertising that features celebrities, relatable characters or strong visual elements tied to their expressive, creative nature. They are particularly receptive to endorsements by music artists they like.  So while I might not buy Lecrae's music, they do and that's good.

  • They are givers. They don't have much money but they are very supportive of causes they believe in. They will not have to be persuaded to be generous when they have something to give.  They are not materialistic.

  • Millennials are conscious of their health and care about programs that help them manage their well-being and make healthier choices. Some Millennials face health challenges like smoking and obesity. A third of Millennials are classified as obese, which is slightly below the national
    average. 28 percent smoke cigarettes, which is 7 percent higher than the national average. Yet, Millennials indicate that they’re interested in help to make healthier choices, including interest in programs like massage therapy (69%), health assessments (22%), weight management (59%), lifestyle (58%), food delivery (32%), smoking cessation (29%) and health assessments (22%) to help them lead a healthier lifestyle.  IF they are interested in well being, perhaps if someone could pray for them to live better it might help.

  • Most live paycheck to paycheck.  They are not interested in making huge amounts of money but if they could learn to live in the Provision of God they would buy into the idea.

  • Millennials care about social issues. While they may not yet be writing big checks to charities, philanthropy is important to this generation– they love crowd-sourcing their philanthropy. They are most likely to spend more on products from companies that invest in social betterment, making them receptive to cause marketing.   When young David asked, IS THERE NOT A CAUSE when facing Goliath, he spoke as a true millennial.  What is your cause church?  They are ready to engage if you can articulate.

Look around you church pastor.  If the average age in your congregation is 25 years old, you are getting it done.  Keep it up.

On the other hand, if your average age is about 40-60 you are about to go thru some hard times.

If you have a robust well populated Sunday school and teen program then you are on the right track. If that's not a priority your ministry will die.

I care about the church.  I know that many people no longer attend but love Jesus.  They now have their own ministry.  Into all the world as you go ministry. They aren't coming back.

I hate to see well intentioned pastors and leaders spinning their wheels trying to reach a smaller and smaller generations when there are so many hungry souls out there.

God is not glorified when a once vital building dedicated to His purposes is converted to a townhouse, shopping center or nightclub.  

Let's harvest smarter, not harder.

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